Council gives approval for two key GST bills

By: | Updated: March 5, 2017 4:44 AM

July 1 rollout plan looks on track, says Finance Minister Arun Jaitley

The council has decided to put a ceiling rate of 40% (20% each by the Centre and states) for GST, to retain the room for rate revisions without legislative approval.(Reuters)

Crossing yet another milestone in the legislative process for the goods and services tax (GST) and keeping alive the hope of its rollout from July 1, the GST Council on Saturday approved the Central GST (CGST) and integrated GST (IGST) bills and resolved to get the state GST (SGST) and UT-GST bills approved on March 16, when the GST Council meets next. The council had, at its previous meeting held in Udaipur on February 18, given its nod for a Bill for compensating the state governments for any revenue loss they might have to suffer in the first five years of the GST regime.

“It looks on track,” finance minister Arun Jaitley said regarding the July 1 rollout plan, adding that all four bills, except the SGST Bill, which needs to be passed by state assemblies, would be collectively taken to the Cabinet and then Parliament in the second leg of the Budget session. Although Jaitley said a legal committee was giving finishing touches to the SGST Bill, some analysts felt that the reason why it, largely a replica of the CGST draft, was not approved on Saturday could be because of some residual discord between the Centre and states. State finance ministers who FE spoke with, however, were non-committal on the issue.

After the next council meeting, there will be another session to finalise the fitment of goods/services into the four-tier (5%, 12%, 18% and 28%) rate structure. The council has decided to put a ceiling rate of 40% (20% each by the Centre and states) for GST, to retain the room for rate revisions without legislative approval.

Stating that to start with, and in the initial five years when there will also be cesses on some items under the 28% slab, the rate structure mentioned above won’t be changed, Jaitley drew a comparison between the proposed ceiling rate and the bound tariffs on imported goods, which are higher than the applied ones. Some analysts, however, said the ceiling, which doesn’t quite gel with the idea of benign GST rate, could be a cause for worry for industries. “Even the 28% rate (which may be made applicable not only for demerit goods like tobacco, aerated drinks, pan masala, etc, but also to a number of other consumer goods) is a departure from the principle of keeping GST rates as low as possible,” said Pratik Jain, indirect tax leader, PwC India. However, Harishanker Subramaniam, national leader, indirect tax, EY India, said, “If the 40% cap is just the ceiling rate and is to subsume cesses going forward and not for any increase in peak GST rate of 28% other than cess, it’s fine.”

On rates, the finance minister said most goods and services would move to the “nearest possible slab” so that there are not many rate shocks. He, however, added that in case of some products, the council could “grade them”, indicating significant rate changes.

The council also decided to extend the composition scheme to restaurants with annual turnover of up to R50 lakh. These shops will pay a 5% GST (CGST and SGST of 2.5% each). Earlier, the composition rate for manufacturing units were fixed at 2% (1+1) and that for traders at 1% (0.5+0.5). The scheme allows registered taxpayers under the R50 crore turnover threshold to pay tax at a fixed rate of turnover and avoid any further scrutiny by the taxman, as far as local (intrastate) sales are concerned. Those who opt for the scheme would not be eligible for input tax credit, a reason why not all manufacturers and service providers might not find it attractive.

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Revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia sought to allay industry’s concerns over the anti-profiteering clause in key GST laws, hinting that it will be enforced only sparingly. “The clause is meant to avoid rampant profiteering by businesses if they don’t reduce rates of their commodities commensurate with lower tax liability (in GST regime). However, we will not be sending any inspectors to check any profiteering. After the GST is implemented, the GST Council may decide to designate cases of profiteering to a quasi judicial body like district consumer forums. The council may also decide to deal with such cases on its own. This will depend on how businesses are dealing with the non-profit clause. All countries with GST have non-profit clauses,” he said.

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